Ukraine protesters, government call truce

8:16 PM, Feb 19, 2014   |    comments
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Video: Ukraine protesters, government call truce

Police form a barrier in Independence Square on February 19, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)



KIEV, Ukraine (USA TODAY) - Ukraine's president and the leaders of protests that exploded in violence this week agreed Wednesday on a truce after Western leaders threatened to freeze Ukrainian bank accounts and ban travel to end the standoff.

Protest leader Vitali Klitschko said the government pledged not to attack the opposition camp in the capital of Kiev while negotiations take place.

The camp was attacked Tuesday in an eruption of violence that left 26 people dead and threatened to break Ukraine into civil war amid uprisings in other cities. Protesters seek closer ties to Europe and an end to President Viktor Yanukovych's growing ties with Russia.

Flames from burning barricades of tires could be seen Wednesday night in spots where protesters were hunkering down for more violence after Ukraine's Security Service said it would launch "anti-terrorist operations" to restore the country to order.

Police and armed thugs burned camp tents and viciously beat Ukrainians. Analysts said the situation was threatening to get worse given that protesters were refusing to give in.

"Civic offices, police stations and army barracks have been attacked. ... This is the scenario of a spiraling descent into more widespread civil conflict," said Ben Tonra, head of the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin in Ireland.

Western diplomats from France and other nations, as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, blamed the Ukrainian government for escalating the situation. European diplomats were in Kiev on Wednesday and others headed to an emergency session of the European Union in Brussels to discuss ways to punish Ukraine leaders to get them to relent.

"Ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with President Yanukovych - he has blood on his hands," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

President Obama, attending a summit in Mexico, warned Kiev against increased violence.

"There will be consequences if people step over the line," Obama said. "And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step in to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians."

Damon Wilson, executive vice president at the Atlantic Council and a former White House director of European affairs under George W. Bush, said the West could target the assets of Ukraine leaders who have holdings in Europe. On Wednesday, a State Department official said it put 20 individuals from the Ukraine on a list of people banned from traveling to the U.S.

Hours before the truce was announced there were ominous signs of more trouble to come. Ukraine's Security Service railed against "radical extremist groups" and Yanukovych fired the head of the armed forces, Col. Gen Volodymyr Zamana. The armed forces have stood on the sidelines of the battles fought between protesters and the police.

Yanukovych blamed the protesters and his political opponents for the unrest, but opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko warned that Yanukovych himself was in danger.

"Yanukovych, you will end like Gadhafi," Lyashko told thousands of angry protesters. "Either you, a parasite, will stop killing people or this fate will await you. Remember this, dictator!"

Moscow denied that it is interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs by offering massive aid packages to Ukraine provided it spurn a pact with the EU.

"The question is ... to what extent if at all is there a channel of communication between Moscow and Kiev in which President Putin is either encouraging or discouraging the current Ukrainian president from taking the violent action which he has chosen to undertake," Tonra says.

Olga Rudenko and Jennifer Collins, Special for USA TODAY; Contributing: Luigi Serenelli, Associated Press

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